Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters
|Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Madeline Wheatley|
|Summary: Louise Walters first novel is an engaging, gentle tale of a wartime romance uncovered through a letter found by chance in an old book.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 296||Date: February 2014|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton|
|External links: Author's website|
Every family has its stories, the anecdotes passed down the generations that help to explain who we think we are. Roberta is sure that she knows all there is to know about her family until she comes across a letter written to her grandmother in 1941. The contents cast doubt on all her assumptions about the past.
Roberta’s present day life and her Grandmother’s past form the two settings of Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase. The book moves between Roberta’s days working in The Old and New Bookshop and her Grandmother’s experiences in the 1940s. The settings are handled well by the author, but both have an air of nostalgia about them, as the world of the independent bookshop is surely now disappearing almost as quickly as people’s wartime memories. I was glad to read early on in the tale that the bookshop’s owner was a wealthy man and not entirely dependent on the shop for his livelihood. It made the pleasant picture of The Old and New (with three members of staff and a comfortable if slightly ramshackle atmosphere) much more believable. Every town should have a bookshop like this one.
Each chapter that centres on Roberta starts with a description of an object found in a second hand book. The lost photos, receipts and letters are all carefully collected and catalogued by Roberta, alongside a description of the condition and pricing of each book. These vignettes are a lovely feature that bring Roberta’s world to life and are splendid snippets in themselves.
Chapters featuring Roberta’s Grandmother Dorothy have no similar preamble but leap straight into the action. The sheer physical effort of Dorothy’s daily life is striking in contrast to Roberta’s reflective hours in the bookshop. Dorothy is dealing with wartime shortages, growing, harvesting and preparing food, as well as caring for two land girls billeted in her home. She also works as a laundress and we first see her on wash day, boiling up clothes in the copper before hauling them through the mangle and up onto the line in her garden. The practical issues of wartime life on the home front are well drawn and it is easy to become absorbed in Dorothy’s world.
The only weak point for me in the story is certain aspects of the two romances that develop, particularly some of the conversations between Dorothy and her Polish airman. At times these verged into Mills & Boon territory, with shades of Catherine Cookson. But overall this is a beautiful first novel with a strong sense of time and place.
Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If you want to know more about life on the home front in World War II try Our Longest Days: A People's History of the Second World War by Sandra Koa Wing, or for a very different take on independent bookshops and their owners read Books by Charlie Hill.
You can read more book reviews or buy Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters at Amazon.com.
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